Dec. 12, 2011
Repulsion (1965)
Grade: 73/100

Director: Roman Polanski
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Yvonne Furneaux, Ian Hendry

What it's about. Gorgeous young Carole (Catherine Deneuve) lives with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) in a London flat. Carole works at a beauty salon, and has a suitor, Colin (John Fraser). Helen has a gregarious boyfriend, Michael (Ian Hendry), who plans on taking her away for a fortnight vacation in Italy.

All is not well for Carole. She is withdrawn and fearful. She is emotionally dependent upon her sister, and when she has left, Carole lives like a hermit in the flat. She becomes paranoid, and has visions of a brutal stranger raping her.

But she does have two visitors who insist on coming in. They are Colin, who breaks down the door, and later, the landlord, who demands rent money. To fend off their unwanted advances, she murders them both, and hides the bodies in the apartment. Inevitably, sister Helen returns, and to her horror discovers a gruesome crime scene.

How others will see it. Repulsion was an early career success for Roman Polanski, who had already made a name for himself with Knife in the Water (1962). It helped matters considerably that Catherine Deneuve, the star of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), was cast as the lead. Both had previously worked on the film Les plus belles escroqueries du monde (1964).

Despite its slow start and two sensational murders, Repulsion met with critical favor. The cinematography landed a BAFTA nomination, and the movie won a pair of awards at the Berlin film festival. The movie made multiples of its small budget, which enabled Polanski to move on to greater projects, ultimately Chinatown (1974).

Today, the film has fewer user votes than expected at, but the user ratings are nonetheless very high and surprisingly consistent. Men and women must see the film from different perspectives, yet reach the same conclusion about its quality. For men, Carole is a venus flytrap that lures men to their quick demise. For women, Carole is a troubled symbol of liberation. She needs a woman to take care of her, a duty of Helen that she has shirked out of hedonism. Yet Carole also has the right to be left alone, and beware to men who try to take advantage of her to fulfill their own desires.

In other words, male viewers can admire Catherine Deneuve's comely face and frame. Female viewers can enjoy watching jerks get what's coming to them, especially the landlord, who is one creepy individual.

How I felt about it. The irony is that Deneuve's character is a complete bore, listless, silent, and frigid. But men such as the landlord and Colin only see her somnolent personality as a gateway to get what they want, access to her fabulous body. Who cares if she is nearly comatose when she has the face and body of a Victoria's Secret fashion model?

The movie, then, is not an insight into the mentally ill, or a plea for their help. It is instead a morality tale on the antics of young to middle-aged men, who are biologically driven to conquer hotties no matter how unattainable, or even undesirable, they may actually be.